A student at the University of Nairobi taking a HIV test at the LVCT Health tent on World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day takes place on 1st December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.
Kenya, which currently has 1.6 million people living with HIV, joined the millions of individuals and organizations around the globe in commemorating this day under the theme “Step up for HIV Prevention: Youth Na Plan”. It was held at the graduation square at the University of Nairobi and was graced by the presence of the permanent Secretary of Health, Julius Korir.
This year’s World AIDS Day focused on encouraging prevention efforts in Kenya’s Population, especially amongst the youth who have been greatly affected by the HIV epidemic. There are many prevention options available: condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), effective and affordable drugs, amongst other efforts that ensure that nearly everyone whether HIV positive or negative finds a suitable way that works for them to prevent the spread of the virus.
The first step in HIV prevention begins with knowing ones HIV status. LVCT Health facilitated this at the event by setting up a tent with trained HIV counsellors available to the public throughout the celebrations for HIV testing. Multiple speakers honored the people who went ahead of us in the battle against HIV and commended the millions who continue to soldier on, advocate and work towards the elimination of the epidemic. Dr Nduku Kilonzo, –Director, National AIDS Control Council, reiterated that it was a time set aside to look back and recognize where we have come from as a country in the fight against HIV and also reflect on how to go forward.
Kenya continued to be lauded in its efforts in providing leadership in the different strategies it has taken up against the HIV fight. It was the second country in Africa after South Africa to launch and rollout PrEP. The UNAIDS Kenya Country Director, Dr. Jantine Jacobi in her address said that there are numerous opportunities to end the epidemic in this country as the Kenyan Constitution underpins addressing HIV epidemic as a right to health. The Head of NASCOP, Dr. Kigen, said that Kenya had the tools required to end HIV and called upon people to get tested.
Most of the speakers led by the Permanent Secretary Korir, however warned that if stigma and discrimination are not addressed, they stand as the greatest obstacles to achieving an end to HIV. He mentioned that the President, Uhuru Kenyatta, is at a personal level very passionate about combating HIV among the youth and is a course that is close to his heart.
It was encouraging to see the youth given a platform to take on most of the planning and execution roles of the day’s activities. Most speakers also tailored their messages to the youth calling upon them to use prevention strategies available to them to protect their generation from being consumed by the scourge. They were urged to use condoms correctly and consistently which remains to be very low among the youth.
“Prevention is better than cure!” is a common quote that needs to become the mantra for all those working to eradicate HIV. More investment needs to be put in the prevention aspect.
By, Lynda Keeru